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Dharma and Artha

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  • January 02, 2015
    Fellows' Seminar
    1030 to 1300 hrs

    Chairperson: Prof. Charan Das Wadhva
    External Discussants: Amb. H. H. S. Viswanathan, Dr. Deepshikha Shahi
    Internal Discussants: Dr. S. Kalyanaraman, Saurabh Mishra

    Major Arguments of the Paper:

    One of the fundamental aims of political science in Indian traditions was to create the cultural conditions necessary for the pursuit of the four great ends of life, the purusharthas – ethical goodness (dharma), wealth and power (artha), pleasure (kama), and spiritual transcendence (moksha). The final or fourth individual aim of moksha or liberation/spiritual transcendence is at a personal level of self-realization and is not being included in this paper. Without moksha the concept is of the three goals of human existence consisting of dharma, artha and kama or trivarga. Each goal is a deep philosophical subject. In statecraft, the most important ones are dharma and artha, and it is on these that the author deliberates upon.

    The paper argues that in ancient Indian traditions dharma and artha play an important role as they relate to statecraft. It has not changed with time. Simplistically, this is akin to what we may today understand as principle and power. Only artha by itself is insufficient to understand the philosophy of statecraft of the Indian traditions. The author argues that for statecraft and international relations as practised in India, dharma is an important limb. Kautilya, the author cum editor of Arthasastra, never suggested to be selective. He did not ever mention to ignore dharma. It is only later commentators who have given their understanding where the holistic interpretation of dharma with artha is underdeveloped; more so in the domain of statecraft and diplomacy. This paper engages with the concepts in the text and the commentaries and opinions of a number of authors who have dealt with this topic. The paper argues that both dharma and artha are integrated and linked. If artha is like surface water surely dharma is like ground water. Their meaning need to be contextualized in the present milieu and a combination of these two concepts should be judiciously applied in statecraft to herald lasting peace and prosperity.

    Major Points of Discussion and Suggestions to the Author:

    • Dharma with a capital D signifies the overarching principles of life governing the universe, whereas dharma with a small d is for specific circumstances. Indian scholars of politics have mostly deliberated upon the latter. Kautilya’s Arthasastra also falls into the second category.
    • Kautilya was secular in his outlook. His personal religious belief did not affect the conduct of statecraft. It was evident when Chandragupta, his disciple, leaned towards Jainism and Kautilya did not get perturbed by this or come in his way.
    • The general western perception of India is that of a land and people who are concerned with other-worldly affairs. However, it is a fallacy as we know that in the Indian philosophical tradition all four aspects of life, that is, Dharma, Artha, Kama, Moksha, have been given adequate attention.
    • Kautilya is considered to be immoral and lacking in ethics because of its prescriptions for statecraft. However, a proper understanding of the Arthasastra suggests that he was very mindful of ethics and morality even in the conduct of state affairs. For instance, he gives precedence to Dharma Vijaya over Asura Vijaya.
    • The study of Arthasastra and other ancient Indian political texts have assumed significance in the backdrop of the possibility of India emerging as a world Power.
    • Existing ‘Western’ IR theories are inadequate to explain India’s rise.
    • Kautilya’s Arthasastra is a more holistic work than Morgenthau’s Politics Among Nations. Kautilya was the first scholar to establish a link between domestic and foreign policy. He argued that although the policy options before the king for the conduct of the two are different, there is a direct correlation between the domestic and foreign policies of a state.
    • For Kautilya dharma was limited to the end and did not apply to the means. The king must set his goals in consonance with dharma. Adoption of unethical means to achieve a pious end has not been ruled out. In this he differs from Gandhi who advocated the purity of means as well as end.
    • It was argued that Indian scholars should avoid the tendency of exalting Kautilya and denigrating Western scholarship. A synthesis of the best scholarly tradition of east and west will lead to the furtherance of true knowledge.
    • The author was advised to give current examples to argue his case as to how the Indian state has sought to practice dharma and artha in the conduct of statecraft. That will generate more interest in Arthasastra.
    • Since the morality of individual may not be in sync with the state’s morality, the author needs to deliberate upon different aspects of morality and resolve the dilemma.